Digital is still the smartest way to reach and wow people but only if we all step up

Jon Mew, the recently installed CEO of the IAB UK, responds to the controversies surrounding digital advertising, and sets out three steps for the industry to repair its reputation.

Jon Mew

First published in The Drum

It has been an interesting time to be taking over at the helm of the IAB, with digital advertising hitting the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

But whilst there is work to be done to build, grow and improve digital there is an important role for us to play. 

Part of that role is being a trusted voice that helps to simplify digital. Some parts of digital can be incredibly bewildering and seem complex, and this is perhaps because digital is so rich; in other words, there is just so much more you can do.

I think there are some simple principles we should apply to how we approach digital that could make a massive difference to the issues we face and at the same time, make it even more effective.

1. Don’t shout at people, with poor ads and poor ad experiences 

We’ve spent too long using poor ads with ad units that interrupt and annoy people. Long term no-one wins, the website or app loses as people don’t return, the advertiser annoys people, and people are driven to download ad blockers. Let’s stop. The Coalition for Better Ads has just published its global research with clear guidance on what ads people like and what’s annoying them. Work with us to cut out the things that irritate people.

2. Think about people not users

One thing that shouldn’t be complicated is the role of advertising online. Like any medium, it should be focused on reaching people and getting them to change attitudes, behaviours and ultimately to buy things. It certainly shouldn’t be entirely centered on chasing a click through rate or the lowest CPA.

The way we set targets has big implications. If your only metric for success is on the lowest short-term price, then expect to achieve that, but stop and ask yourself what kind of metric is that? Surely, we should be pushing towards measuring long-term uplifts in brand perceptions and sales.

3. If context is important to you (and it probably is) plan for it

‘Content is King’ was a much-read essay about the internet written by Bill Gates 21 years ago. He correctly predicted many things including the importance of content and that it would be where the ‘real money is made’. While some publishers might debate if that happened, the importance of content and of course context will always be critical to advertising.

As an advertiser, there are choices. You can put your inventory on premium publishers and you know where your ads will appear, you can run campaigns across multiple sites with controls to safeguard that, or you might not care where your ads appear at all.

Most advertisers use some kind of combination of the first two, and let’s be clear, if you run ads across multiple sites, there are controls and technology in place to minimise your risks. You have a choice. JICWEBS is a joint industry committee between buy side and sell side that manages this process with companies that are audited against their commitments.

As complex as the world can be, if we could stick to those principles, if we created better ad experiences, if we stopped chasing the lowest CPAs and thought of people instead and if we controlled and asked the right questions about where our ads go… can you imagine what the digital world would be like?

Digital is the smartest way to reach and wow people, but only if we work together to do it in the right way.

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